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Why should America support Israel?

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Why should America support Israel in the first place?

That’s a fair question to ask down here in Melbourne, Australia, where the United Israel Appeal of Victoria kindly invited me to address communal, school and civic audiences as well as a large number of smaller groups. Australia’s 120,000 Jews are a tiny community compared to their American counterparts—more Jews live in a couple of neighborhoods in Brooklyn—but they are more engaged with Israel and more observant, and punch far above their weight in Jewish affairs. As a community they are closer to the Holocaust and take nothing for granted.

Jews here in Melbourne are trying to understand, for example why an ostensibly observant Jew like Rahm Emanuel would join in breaking the Bush administration’s quid-pro-quo with Ariel Sharon: in return for withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza, Israel would obtain some flexibility on the natural expansion of West Bank settlements.

Back in 1993, when Rahm Emanuel arranged the White House lawn handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, Jewish leaders explained that they had no choice but to create a Palestinian government to take the fast-growing Palestinian population off Israeli hands. Otherwise, the much-vaunted “Arab womb” of which Arafat bragged would overwhelm Israeli demographics. Israel’s decline was inevitable as a matter of relative population, the story went, and Israel needed to rope in its mortal enemies for lack of any other prospective government.

Compared to some of the great failures of vision in Jewish history this one may seem small, but it was devastatingly wrong nonetheless. Israel’s fertility rate has risen steady to nearly 3, by far the highest in the developed world, and not only because of large ultra-orthodox families. The Palestinian birth rate is in a tailspin. We don’t know how low it has fallen because the Palestinian Authority has inflated its population to a fictitious 3.5 million from an actual 2.4 million.

That was why the Israelis went along with Arafat; then Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, Rahm Emanuel’s alter ego in Israeli politics, did so out of fanatical socialist universalism. What motivates Emanuel besides an extreme sort of narcissism, I will leave to the psychiatrists.

That was the Clinton administration story: both sides are converging on a peace agreement with America as the mediator. That crashed and burned in the Second Intifada of 1998 and the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, when Israel stood out as America’s most reliable ally in a mostly hostile region.

Why should the US support Israel? There are two reasons.

The first is strictly practical: Israel has the strongest military in the region and America wants to ally with strength. Washington should use its own resources to neutralize Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons, in my view, but the fact that Israel has the capability to do so gives America the capacity to achieve just this result without taking directly responsibility if it so chooses. Iran’s nuclear capacity is only the most obvious area in which Israeli capability benefits America (think also of the North Korean nuclear reactor installed in Syria which Israel destroyed last year).

By the same token, it is in American interests to monopolize Israeli friendship as much as possible. If (as the Lebanon Star’s Michael Young suggests) the blunders of the American administration and its failure of will lead to “terminal irrelevance” in the region, the vacuum will be filled by Russia, India and China—and Israel will adjust its policies accordingly. That would make the world a more dangerous and less stable place, and America is far better off having Israel inside the tent shooting out. That is

But there is a far more fundamental reason for America to support Israel. Israel is part of America’s DNA. As Michael Novak showed so effectively in his book On Two Wings, America’s founding drew on the uniquely Hebrew concept of holiness of the individual and divine love for the weak and powerless, as much as it did on the natural law tradition of Grotius and Locke. The destiny of the United States of America and the people of Israel are inextricably intertwined for that reason, and America’s affinity for Israel and deep interest in the welfare of the Jewish people are bred in American marrow.

From this point of view, what is sacred about America is a reflection of the holiness of Israel. If America succeeds in banishing the sacred from public life – and that is the broader agenda of the liberal Democrats– there will be little reason for America to have a special relationship with Israel except for military convenience. And if this banishment of the sacred from public life were to coincide with a demoralized retreat from the exercise of power in Western and Central Asia, there would be little reason at all for a special relationship.

America’s Jewish leadership has failed on all counts.

The liberal left with its smarmy universalism has demanded that Israel make any concession required to appease the paranoia of the Arab world. But this is a paranoia that cannot be appeased, for the patient really is dying.

The secular right argued that because Israel is the region’s only democracy, it deserves a special relationship, and argued further that imposing democratic governments on other countries would lead to cheer and goodwill everywhere. But Americans never cared enough about whether other countries were democratic to make it the criteria for a special relationship (how about Iceland?), and project of imposing democracy on the Arab world came to a horrible end.

The religious leadership should have had the most to say about Israel’s holiness and the American character. Not only did it fail to make this argument, but it stuck its fingers in its ears and turned its back when Christians made this argument—Michael Novak, for example. Rather than make common cause with the Christians who sought Jews out in friendship in the clear belief that the welfare of the Jewish people was of existential importance for the United States, the religious community for the most part dwelt on past injuries. That, perhaps, is the most disappointing of all.

Obama’s betrayal of Israel forces a reconsideration of Jewish policy in general. It exposes the left the rage of the majority of the Jewish organizations (weighted by donors), although younger secular Jews will continue to pursue their pipe-dreams.

It will drastically reduce the influence of war-horses like Alan Dershowitz and Martin Peretz, who vouched for Obama at a point when other warned about precisely this outcome and when Jewish opposition might have made a difference.

And it will put an increased burden on the observant community, which has the closest ties of family as well as spirit to Israel. It is an astonishing thing that Christians have taken the lead in asserting the importance of Israel to the United States, and that observant Jews have viewed them with suspicion. The fact is that observant Jews have more in common with devout Christians than with the secular left wing, just as devout Christians have more in common with observant Jews than with the late Ted Kennedy, for example.

That portends the end of the “Jewish lobby” as such. The divisions within the Jewish community likely are irreparable, and the functional alliances will cross lines of religion and denomination to assert the most fundamental principle of all: the sacred must not be banished from American public life.

MP3s of Goldman talk Sunday 6 September 2009

Here is the introduction to the evening given by Geoffrey Bloch

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This is the main part of the speech

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Here are the questions and answers after the lecture. Of particular interest is the question 13 minutes into the track about the difference between American anti-semitism and European.

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Tell us what you think

I disagree with George Peters. McCain was neither senile nor stupid although he was NOT the best candidate. My belief is that for all of the Bush years the US was "set up" to disdain him. If you compare the treatment Bush received in the media, to the treatment Israel receives, you will see the commonalities. The Far Left Extremists, now in power, planted stories and smears to control the election. They had to get rid of the best most attractive candidates, so they smeared them all. Huckabee (crazy religious), Rudy (extra-marital), Romney (a Mormon). Eliminating them, the least popular McCain got the nod - they could defeat old McCain by young Obama. The same smears against Sarah Palin are going on, even today. Why? Because they are trying to eliminate her. The US public was "played" and the least capable, least patriotic, most loathesome Obama - all show and no decent substance got "annointed." The US and the world now suffers from this un-American, anti-Israel, anti-democracy thug. Dressed up, speaking well, he is Saul Alinsky re-born. ("Dress well, speak well - get inside the tent - then implement your plans and keep pounding them through" (paraphrase)). America has a disaster on its hands. That means the whole world will suffer, too.

Posted by Roberta on 2009-09-09 20:58:56 GMT

The only problem with most Muslims, who may not want to kill anyone is that their silence makes them irrelevant, in the same way that all the "good" Germans, in their silence were conspirators. It is only other Muslims who know who the problems are within their religion, and if they do not speak out and become active in outing and renouncing them, they become part of the problem. As a Jew, if Jews were killing people, I would be actively working to find out who they were and be working to have them locked up rather than naming streets after them. Muslims who are peaceful have a responsibility to speak out and even work under cover to get rid of them. Thank goodness for Wafa Sultan, Brigitte Gabriel, Noni Darwish, and the very few like them.

Posted by Lily in L.A. on 2009-09-09 07:49:06 GMT

Roberta - Well, I'm a Jew, I voted for Obama (and the much-maligned Bush Jnr. in '04) and I have to say I'm very disappointed by the Foreign Policy team he has assembled (Clinton, George Mitchell, others) and the early directions taken; and also disappointed by his Econ. Policy team. OTOH, it was hard to vote in the primaries for Hilary Clinton given her record with Arafat's wife on more than one occasion, not to mention her generally brazen opportunism. And we all recall who was Bill Clinton's most frequent Head of State visitor to the White House (yes, Yasser Arafat...and head of what State, one asks?). Which left us with candidate John McCain. While the Republicans have generally been more favorable to Israel and the Jews than the Dems.(with exceptions like Bush Snr.), he was a singularly unappealing candidate, sometimes demented, and clinging on to the spurious common man image of "Joe the Plumber" (who was not even a plumber), which I won't bore you with. You had to be there. In the end, it was a foregone conclusion: a demented McCain was considered to be like a 3rd Bush term, senescent - if not senile - and also sick (cancer) vs. an attractive candidate offering the amorphous notion of "change" after 8 maddening Bush years. The choices were few, and the die was cast. It was an extraordinary victory with wins in the reddest of red states (like VA, N. Carolina and re-taking FLA). Personally, I think Obama, right now, is more pre-occupied with domestic economic matters than Foreign Policy, and that is how he will ultimately be judged. One doesn't see much activity by Mid-East envoy Mitchell. Clearly it's time for the (numerous) leadership organs of American Jewry to take a consistent and unified stand, as riven as they are are by their own internal rivalries. They have failed us at least in the past (WW2), and we are once again at a major international turning point.

Posted by George Peters on 2009-09-09 05:29:24 GMT

Not here, Roberta, and not everyone.

Posted by Ralph Zwier on 2009-09-09 03:05:14 GMT

This was no doubt a very informative and well worthwhile evening. I agree with Goldman"s "take" on almost all points - but I think the danger from the Obama administration is even greater than Goldman described. Obama"s identity and allegience is with the Islamic world, his inner circle is overtly pro-Palestinian, anti- Israel, and Very Far Left. Obama is a master of deceit, he will obscure his anti-Israel policies with great whitewash and his adoring fans and press will believe he has the best of intentions. So far, I have not found evidence that Jews who voted for him are reconsidering. So far, they still think that I am the crazy one.

Posted by Roberta on 2009-09-09 02:53:27 GMT

My friends which were on this event retold me in Russian about Goldman"s speach. I completely agree with his opinion.

Posted by Leonid Shvartsman on 2009-09-09 02:09:05 GMT

I didnt really want to listen to this but am very happy I did and as an Israeli I thank you Mr. Goldman especially on your words regarding Obama which most of us here feel is a devil in a human body. Your words on totalitarianism is something new for me but completely reasonable and our moral fight between the muslim world and ourselves. I hope the world will come realize this also

Posted by Frances Glasner on 2009-09-08 21:25:02 GMT

Been thinking about this a bit more, and maybe a bit off track, but Goldman"s view of the origins of American history (and subsequent religious affiliation and political inclinations, including towards Israel) is somewhat limited. While it"s true that the country was looked upon by some as "God"s New Israel" (see Cherry"s book of the same name), the pilgrim fathers of whom he spoke were but one of four identifiable British emigrant groups: they from East Anglia who went to the colonies of New England ("a shining city on a hill" etc.), the Cavaliers who formed the southern slave plantocracy - and were indeed the first very colonists in what is today the USA, Jamestown 1607, and indeed produced most of the first several Presidents - not the New-Englanders), the Quakers (Pennsylvania), and finally, the ravaged Scots-Irish who went to the so-called "back-country" (Tennessee etc., yielding the highly populist-nationalist President Andrew Jackson), and heartland of today"s fundamentalist evangelicals (i.e. those who "support" us). All these were distinct groups, whose presence is still discernible today in the social-political fabric of American life 300 years later, and still with very different ideological and socio-political perspectives on America and its role in world affairs ("red states" vs. "blue states" etc.). Why do we only remember the "pilgrims" (as did Goldman), ignoring their predecessors, the Virginian slave plantocracy,for example? Simple - the winners write history, the North won the Civil War, and so their story has become a key part of the prevailing American civil religion, the Elementary School version of American History. I"m surprised he didn"t mention this at greater length, although he touched on it. It"s even more ironic as these were the mainstream Protestants about whose decline, and indeed, gradual demise and loss of (religious) influence, he also touched upon. Not all these groups have the same religious attitudes, the same influence today, the same affiliations/hostility towards Israel. It"s true that America is a very Christian nation (you have to have lived there for some decades as I have to appreciate that), perhaps the largest in the world, and it"s also true that (Western, Protestant) Europe has largely abandoned much of its historical Christianity, but I"d disagree with Goldman that this was merely an alternative cultic veneer papering over ancient regional tribalisms. For God"s sake, historically, the Catholic Church has been one of the most powerful organizations in what we call "Western Civilization", and he surely knows that. In any case, I think that a more subtle and nuanced grasp/presentation of American History would have been useful when trying to explain the affiliation of certain groups with Israel - the Christian Zionism of which he spoke - and the hostility of others. But, of course his time was limited, and having said all that, I thought it was a fabulous speech from a serious thinker.

Posted by George Peters on 2009-09-07 13:52:09 GMT

I found David Goldman's line about Melbourne to be humorous rather than "alarming". Surely it was a speaker's ploy to get the full attention of his Melbourne audience. It worked. Preference utilitarianism according to Goldman is behind the West's willingness to sacrifice Israel. This is debatable, but the willingness of the West to sacrifice Israel rather than stand up to Islam is observable. I didn't hear that we should be grateful for Iran's woes. In fact Goldman himself said this is not a time for schadenfreude. It's just that the dinosaur can deal a severe blow even in its death throes. There was no racism. I think the previous commenter must be confusing stereotyping with racism. I was, in fact left feeling stimulated by the wealth of ideas deriving from Goldman's interesting analysis.

Posted by DA on 2009-09-07 09:38:09 GMT

Zelda"s analysis is spot-on. While I found his talk to be erudite, I didn"t find his information to be all that startling or new. Some Americans would argue with him bitterly,others accept his views and fears on Obama and his plans for Israel. Of course there are those, like Singer and Anthony Lowenstein and a few others who openly advocate for our Govt., not only Obama"s to jettison Israel so that the Islamic world would be mollified and leave us all alone! Is Obama planning to do that, the way they did with the Jews and Hitler, or nearer to home, with East Timor and the Indonesians? Who knows,- but I think that Obama and his admin. know only too well that Israel isn"t the pushover the way we Jews were in the 30s, nor like the poor Christian East Timorese were in the "70s up to the recent times. Nor did the appeasement do anybody any good. Many American Jews and Israelis believe Israel stands or falls with them and the US,- I don"t believe this to be entirely true,- we shall overcome in spite of Obama and the anti-Zionists! Yes, we should be grateful for any supporting group like the Christian Zionists, but they are not the only ones. As for the Islamic world,- does any Christian really care about them,- except fearing them and fearing for their flock in those countries? This is why Afghanistan and Iraq are such unpopular wars.

Posted by MM on 2009-09-07 09:38:03 GMT

David Goldman"s lecture, "Israel - in isolation?" began with his alarming comment that "Melbourne is where the problem all began." The "problem", it eventually transpired, was philosopher Peter Singer, whom Goldman trashed as a man who believes "a healthy pig is more worthy than a sick child" - a reference (not explained)to Singer"s 1975 book "Animal Liberation", which prompted American judge Richard Posner to argue that Singer"s ethical vision "found greater value in a healthy pig than a profoundly retarded child." What did this have to do with Israel"s woes? Well, another of Singer"s theories is "preference utilitarianism" so in Goldman"s view, it follows - take a quantum leap - that the world in general, and Barack Obama in particular, would rather sacrifice Israel than risk catastrophic Arab Muslim vengeance. And the good news? Hey, let"s be grateful that at least Iran is self-destructing because its youth is into drugs, prostitution and sub-zero population growth - and of course, we have some really good friends among evangelical Christians and even a few Catholics. Ninety minutes of these convoluted, often racist ramblings left me profoundly dismayed and depressed. It"s high time we had the courage to engage in honest, incisive debate about the crisis facing Israel and the diaspora.

Posted by Zelda Cawthorne on 2009-09-07 07:17:25 GMT

Some interesting points raised. I considered that there was too much attributed to religion and not enough recognition of Human Rights issues, Army, Determination for survival along with the factors which give rise to anti semitism and anti zionism. These too can come from Christian religious factions. Extremism can do great harm, especially when sanctified by religion.

Posted on 2009-09-07 06:53:48 GMT

Dear Triumvirate, Thank youse all and Shlomo W. and Geoff, for an enlightening evening, an opportunity to hear the ideas of a philosopher-analyst, keeping us confidently on track. And getting the podcast online - by miidnight. Mitzuyan. SHANAH TOVA

Posted by Cher on 2009-09-07 03:14:41 GMT

Some of the things Goldman said were quite revealing. One hopes that mainstream American Jewish community would change its view of Obama. I know of at least one American voter who lives in Oz has done so.

Posted by Rachel on 2009-09-06 23:00:23 GMT

Ralph, thanks for your vision to have David Goldman visit Melbourne to speak publically. Also for making available this podcast which I have forwarded to many who were unable to attend last night. I found David"s presentation last night to be compelling and am blown away by his breadth and depth of knowledge and insight into a subject which I believe is very close to the hearts of most Jews: Israel"s future. I was also heartened by his message of optimism.

Posted by Franita on 2009-09-06 22:33:46 GMT

Both Harry and I really enjoyed the opportunity to listen to David - his range of thought has produced much conversation! Thanks again for drawing the event to my attention when you first knew he would be coming out. Congratulations to you, and all involved;

Posted by Anon on 2009-09-06 22:15:48 GMT

Thank you ICJS for making it possible for us to hear such a wonderful speaker like David Goldman. The evening was well organized. I hope ICJS will have other such high profile speakers on a regular basis. David"s lecture about the dangers of the Obama administration and Islamic Extremism , European/Scandinavian Israelfobia and the double standards of the International community should be heard by everyone.

Posted by MB on 2009-09-06 22:13:39 GMT

The audience last night was as tuned in to Goldman"s controversial message as one could expect here in Melbourne.

Posted by Anon on 2009-09-06 22:09:58 GMT

An outstanding occasion indeed. Wondereful to get such insights re Obama and the Middle East, especially Iran: not what we hear anywhere in the press for sure. While Goldman was not totally "upbeat" re the position of Israel today,I found his overview and summary vastly encouraging, compared with the comments I heard at the International Conference on Anti-Semitism at Monash, Caulfield, a few years back. Vastly encouraging, too, to know that US Christian evangelicals are on the side of Israel too. (Perhaps a lot to do with the work/books of John Hagee (eg:In Defense of Israel: The Bible"s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State: Front Line Press). An interesting view of Europe"s Christianity, too... reverting back to its original tribalism. However, I am not convinced re its total accuracy. Luther (despite his virulent anti-semitism) and the Biblical Reformation that followed, Luther did far more for western Christianity than offer a shallow, evaporating veneer. Those who founded US as "pilgrim fathers" were themselves offspring from the whole movement, surely. I rejoice with all my heart that Israel today is the shining pearl in the surrounding desert sands,of course, the pearl of the Lord"s heart,too, despite her mistakes, gross sins and in the past. Thank you for your work in arranging for David Goldman to speak. Bring him again, please!

Posted by Anna on 2009-09-06 21:45:25 GMT

Ronit - it was an excellent presentation, and I would like to thank you, Ralph and Fran at ICJS for organizing this. Goldmann was a fine speaker, presenting a first-class analysis,and I look forward to attending further such events.

Posted by George Peters on 2009-09-06 19:54:41 GMT

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